Dear Drs. Beasley:
My wife and I are parents of a two-year-old son and are expecting another baby in about six months. My problem is that my wife will not allow me to be an active father in my son’s life. She doesn’t want me to give him a bath, put him to bed, take or pick him up from mother’s day out, or spend time alone with him. She says I am too strict on him, and I say she is too lenient. I won’t allow him to hit me; she will. If he doesn’t want to get ready for bed, she lets him stay up until she goes to bed around midnight. Then she puts him to bed in our bed! All I want is to be an active (and effective) dad to my son. Help!
Dr. Lori: Well, it certainly sounds stressful around your home. Let me start by saying that it is not unusual for a husband and wife to disagree over parenting styles—particularly with the birth of their first child. But you have a second one on the way, and it is important that you and your wife begin communicating effectively about blending your parenting styles and finding one acceptable to both of you. That is much easier said than done.
Dr. Stewart: Lori is correct, David. It is important for parents to present a united front to their children. Parents should support each other and agree to disagree behind closed doors. Unfortunately, it appears that you and your wife are engaged in a win-lose situation. The key to survival as parents is to discuss and compromise so that you turn that win-lose scenario into a win-win situation where both of you can feel good about your parenting style.
Dr. Lori: Children thrive when Mom and Dad are actively involved in day-to-day parenting. Children also do best when they have routines. Bedtime routines are particularly good times for parent-child bonding. Both of you can be part of a bedtime pattern, perhaps alternating responsibilities. One of you can be responsible for bathtime while the other is responsible for putting on pajamas and getting the child to bed (his own bed). One or both of you can read a book or tell a bedtime story, say prayers, and tuck the child into bed.
Dr. Stewart: Similar patterns can be established for getting your son up in the morning, mealtimes, or going to mother’s day out. You and your wife will probably feel better about each other and your marriage when you establish a routine. She can be supportive of you when she sees your gentle side with your son. You can be supportive of her when she establishes and sticks to a routine and allows you to be the parent you want to be.
Dr. Lori: Sometimes a parent is reluctant to set limits for a child and prefers the role of friend rather than parent. Your child can have many friends, but only one Mom and Dad. Until children are mature enough to set their own limits and determine their own schedules, it is up to us as parents to establish these guidelines. Young children function best and are most secure when they know what is expected of them. Children do not hit their parents; parents do not hit their children—there are better ways to change unacceptable behavior.
Dr. Stewart: Another caution: do not get into playing “permissive parent/strict parent” with your children. Avoid saying, “Ask your mom” or “Ask your dad.” Agree with your spouse to jointly discuss major decisions affecting your child before handing down a final decision on his request. When your wife views you as being too strict and you view her as being too permissive, try seeing the situation from your spouse’s point of view.